Remember June 6, 1941

June 6th, 2012

My grandfather Irving Blackman, who has been featured on this blog several times, will be 94 in August. He fought valiantly in the Pacific during World War II. Alas, he is fading. Thankfully, his health is strong, but his memory, and ability to communicate are diminishing rapidly. He could go on to live for quite some time, but it is doubtful that he will remember who I am, or be able to have any conversation with me, more than a few words. I can see in his eyes the struggle to fight against his own mind–it is a battle that he is losing. I also look in his eyes, and dread this future for my father, and for myself.

Irving Blackman has lived a long, proud life, and I am very, very honored to be his grandson.

Please remember all of the veterans who fought for our freedom.

Update: My father offers some touching words about Grandpa.

 In 1942 the USS Luce was attacked by a squadron of Kamikazes. While the brave sailors aboard the Destroyer managed to shoot down one of the flying suicide pilots, one small plane managed to fly through the sea of bullets, sinking the mighty Destroyer. My dad was the last man off the ship before it sank to the bottom of the Pacific.

Dad was passive by nature, with no life jacket, and no swimming skills  in shark infested waters. He knew what he needed; to survive.

My dad, Irivng Blackman, turns 94 in August and he is fighting a different kind of battle. The battle to keep his mind. This time, Alzheimer’s is the enemy and he will not be able to escape this sinking ship.

It is easy to give people advice but hard to give oneself advice.

The focus of my professional life has been to simplify the financial landscape to promote better decisions. It’s important because I believe that complexity is dangerous to our financial health.

There is nothing simple about caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s.

As I was talking to him, a few words came through his fragmented sentence structure, “Jaime, I don’t know what I need.”

As a son on a mission, I immediately began tapping into my professional resources for help—geriatric care managers, doctors, case workers, lawyers, nurses, administrators, assisted living personnel—anyone that could offer insight into what we should do.

But I knew that I was not alone in my doubts. Over 5 million Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and even more have to deal with the challenges of elderly care. Centenarians are the fastest growing segment of the population. The 90+ age group has tripled over the past three decades and is predicted to quadruple in the next forty years

A shocking 98.2% of those in their 90’s have a disability and require assistance in daily activities. Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady, famously said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world—those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”

My dad had always been my caregiver. He bought me my first Guitar when I was 12. As his ability to communicate declined, I started singing and playing guitar using Skype as he lives in Florida and I’m in NY. I noticed that Dad was focused during each song. He would clap his hands, sing the lyrics of songs from his past, and laugh and applaud after each performance. The music calms him down and may be the last part of his identity to go.. It is a refuge from his Alzheimer’s, a retreat from the stress and a trigger to reminisce on old happy memories.

I sent him an iPod with 80 songs that straps on his wrist. Music helps break the silence of Alzheimer’s for Dad.

Dr. Oliver Sacks, a renowned neurologist and psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center said, “I think that music therapy and music therapists are crucial and indispensable in institutions for elderly people and among neurologically disabled patients.” Dan Cohen of the non-profit Music & Memory , loads iPods with personalized music for the elderly. This enables individuals to connect to joyful memories through song and simultaneously build their cognitive skills. It breaks the monotony of conventional treatment and adds energy to their lives.

I am changing care for Dad from 6 hours to 24 hours a day and interviewing aides that can provide this. The agency asked what criteria I had for the aide and my integral requirement was musical ability. Music provides a hopeful way to cope with the effects of Alzheimer’s. If Dad is not able to get off this sinking ship, I want to make sure that while he’s on, he will always have another song.

I got teary-eyed reading this.